Friday, February 29, 2008

Crossbills and crooks

School has been very interesting, with diverse topics in every class. I am currently studying Heidegger, mangrove swamps, the Great Depression, military dictatorships in Argentina and Uruguay, and other things I never knew anything about.

This has been another week of staying indoors, but it is getting warmer again – the last snowfall is gradually melting away again, and next week, Insh’Allah, I should be able to bicycle. A rather bird-poor week, obviously, although a flock of white-winged crossbills Loxia leucoptera did hang out in front of the “dark hole of despair” condo:

This year is full of potential for voters to influence the future. Alaska representative Don Young (R) is being investigated for fraud, and has spent nearly a million dollars of his campaign funds on lawyers to fight off corruption charges. Don Young ranks especially high on my list of despicable people (he told me in a Sitka public meeting that the Alaska rainforest grows back in less than 100 years, and that less than 1% of the Tongass had been logged!), so if you are registered to vote in Alaska, you should check this guy out before letting Don Young continue his 35-year crusade to destroy the environment in Alaska! According to the AP, when Don Young was asked about his spending of campaign money on legal fees, he said this:

“Everybody wants change, what is change?”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Notes from the dark hole of despair

It is now raining, which is slowly turning the city into a patchwork of slush, ice and bare ground. Everyday there is a little bit more bare ground, but still not enough road is clear to go bicycling without studded tires (of course, as Tom justly pointed out, I am just weak; this crazy woman has no problem with a little ice and snow).

I have largely been an indoor creature lately, studying, vegetating in Jad’s condo, going to downtown bars (quite an adventuresome thing to do, at times), etc. I did restart running (I had been injured since October), but that is also indoors at this time and rather slow. With some luck, I might be able to go to the National Guard marathon trials in May. I even took up indoor birdwatching, looking at passing eagles, siskins, redpolls, chestnut-backed chickadees, Steller’s jays, magpies, and even a heron, through windows at the condo and the university. I took this picture of a Steller’s jay from the condo:

In the same mood of winter depression, we are now calling Jad’s condo “the dark hole of despair”. It really isn’t so bad, but I like it because I had been reading a lot of Kierkegaard when Ian came up with the name.

A few days ago, I did briefly go outside. Ian and I went out to the range to shoot a flak jacket (it stopped a .40 cal round – not bad), and start a fire by rubbing stick together. We had seen a guy do it on television (I know…) and it looked rather feasible, so we went out there and tried. It was simply impossible to find anything dry. Even the relatively dry wood we extracted from the rotting core of living trees (through opening between the roots) turned out to be too wet. Also, the bow just didn’t seem to work; it kept flipping the stick into Ian’s face or slipping and achieving nothing. We gave up.

A good thing that I did was vote in the primary elections for the first time. Primaries are complicated, and usually Alaska only has a symbolic role to play, but this year every state counts. In the American system, registering for a party is free and non-committing, and registered voters basically get to vote twice: one for nomination and once for president. Because we already know with 90% certainty that all Alaska votes will result in one Republican vote in the presidential elections, the primary votes are more important than the presidential votes – especially for Juneau democrats, because of the way that delegate numbers are assigned. So I registered, and went to vote at the primaries. The primaries were a crazy affair, with 1200 registered democrats showing up in spite of a cold, windy day with two feet of snow on the ground. Obama, the candidate I had turned up to vote for, got almost three-quarters of the democratic vote in Juneau (same as the state overall of 74%). That means there were about 900 of us there to vote for him. Polls for the primaries are an old-fashioned, simple, and emotional affair compared to the presidential elections.

Democracy at its best…

Monday, February 4, 2008

Enough snow!

Many people are enchanted by snow – I honestly would rather it were summer already. I cannot wait to bicycle to the university, walk around in the mountains with plenty of daylight and no ice or avalanches, and step outside without first wrapping multiple layers of fleece over every part of my body. Many days were bitterly cold, and hiking was painful and short, such as a trip out on Mendenhall Lake to check out the icebergs up close:

I thought my nose was going to freeze off on that one hour mini-adventure.

I then went back up the side of Mount Juneau to look for the goats, with Ian and Mac. It was a fun hike even though I was not wearing crampons and I kept sliding. I just tried to stay off the ridge where it was most icy and dangerous. The photo below is from the bottom of the trail that we started from. Ian and Mac are standing in front of an old gold mine tunnel.

I went back to Mendenhall flats, and once again I was absolutely freezing. This time I didn’t see any unusual birds at all, so I just walked around in the snow with Ian.

Most of my time is taken up by school, though, and some of my classes are very interesting. In decreasing order of interest they are: introduction to oceanography, history of the US II, Spanish conversation, literature and the sense of place, poetry studies. Of course, it isn’t so much the topic that makes a class more interesting than another, as the instructor and material.

And Jad – the pilot who owns the place that Ian and I are sleeping on - just got back this morning. For Ian it is bad news because now he has to sleep on the couch. As for me, I hardly know anyone in Juneau so I am happy to have another familiar face around. So far I only know a handful of Army buddies, and Roman, another Sitka “expatriate.”

As far as long-term plans are concerned, I have some vague ideas which are subject to change of course. I am planning to go to Sitka over spring break (late March) and look at perhaps finding a chunk of land that I could buy. Of course, everything there is VERY expensive, so I may or may not be successful in that particular endeavor.